Not-So-Obvious Dementia Care Tips

by | August 31, 2021 | Care Tips, Featured Article, Involving Others

When caring for a loved one living with dementia, learn to look at things in a new way. It’s easy to overlook the little things, but those little things may make a big difference.

These dementia care tips were things we didn’t think about, at least not at first. Once we tried them and saw how they made a difference, they suddenly seemed so obvious. But, of course, they weren’t obvious at all when we started. Caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia requires a new way of thinking about things.

Dementia caregivers know that little things can make a big difference, but sometimes little things get overlooked. So, here’s our list of not-so-obvious dementia care tips.

Tip #1: Some Care Tips Won’t Work for You

Caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is challenging physically, emotionally, and mentally. It would be so much easier if a doctor or a guidebook could tell you exactly what to do in every situation, but that just isn’t possible.

Every person is different. What works for someone else may or may not work for you.

Our advice? Find out what other people are doing, and try those things. If they don’t work today, they might work tomorrow. If they don’t work at all, try something else. Yes, read our care tips, talk with other caregivers about what they are doing, and find dementia care tips from other sources, but know that you will need to discover the best form of care for you and your loved one.

Become a student, taking note of your loved one’s reactions. Your own experience with your loved one will be your best teacher.

Tip #2: Approach From the Front

Get in the habit of always approaching your loved one from the front. Don’t sneak up from behind or try surprise someone who is living with dementia. You’ll probably only startle or scare them.

Let them see you coming. Sometimes that means “taking the long way around.” If you can’t approach straight on, at least try to ease in from the side.

Tip #3: Give It Time

Practice patience. Get in the habit of pausing after you say or do something. It’s natural to expect an immediate response, but your loved one may no longer be able to react quickly.

When talking with someone living with dementia, allow time for the person to reply. Present them with the gift of a comfortable length of time in which to formulate a response. Look at them. Wait for them. Even if you don’t ultimately get a response, you will still be sharing that you are interested, that you care.

Tip #4: Learn Their Favorite Song

Find your loved one’s favorite singers and songs. If they have an old album collection, start there. If you need suggestions for older songs, check out these playlists from Golden Carers or our very own online library of singalong songs. Play different songs for them and see how they react.

Music can help people living with dementia better connect with memories and emotions. Singing together is a wonderful way to connect with another person. Music may even work like Medicine for the Brain.

Tip #5: Involve Younger Children

Alzheimer’s and dementia may seem confusing or even frightening, but most children are able to see past the disease. Older people are often comforted by the presence of children. Sometimes children seem to intuitively relate easily to a grandparent living with dementia.

Plan a craft project appropriate for children and the person living with dementia. Sing songs together. Look through photo albums. Read stories together. Create moments of connection between generations.

What Not-So-Obvious Dementia Care Tip Have You Learned?

Let us know your favorite dementia care tip. Have you learned something during your journey as a caregiver, something that didn’t seem so obvious at first? Please share through our Contact Us page or in the comments below.

 

 

14 Comments

  1. Donna

    My dear husband passed of Alzheimer’s 8 years ago. It is a terrible disease for both patient and family. We sang in a gospel quartet for 14 years so suggesting we sing a song or playing a CD was a great way to create some happy memories with him.
    One thing I had a hard time with was when he would say he wanted to go home. I cared for him at home for 12 years, but he didn’t always realize that. Visiting an Alzheimer’s support group at a local church was the best thing I did during that time. The first thing I learned from them was: don’t argue with them. So, instead of saying you are at home, I would sometimes just say in a minute we will get in the car and go see if we can find it. By the time we took a drive, he’d say we’re back home.

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      We’re sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing from your own experience. This is great advice and will help other caregivers and families.

      Reply
  2. Karen

    Take your time providing them with personal care. My mom responded to it quite well; she loved it.

    I gave her foot bathes and pedicures, filed her fingernails, and massaged her arms, hands, feet and legs – then applied lotion. Then a back and neck massage. These were done over a week’s time. I spent at least 30 minutes doing each care item.

    Comb their hair each day and style/clip it up. Take your time. Make it count for them.

    Ask them if it’s ok to touch them when you do any personal care such as above and the shower or sponge bath. Dressing – pick two shirts and ask them which they would like to wear (you pick the pants). It’s about involving them in the task.

    Showers got really tough. We put an oil heater in the bathroom to keep it real warm, covered the shower stall floor with a pink mat to cover the black anti-slip strips, which looked like holes to her. A shower was necessary to wash her hair about every 2 weeks (dry shampoo only works so long). Eventually, we gave her sponge baths each morning. We kept her covered with a towel, worked from feet up; kept night shirt on and cleaned under shirt then removed dirty shirt and dried her. Put on clean shirt and then diaper and pants. Also, when showers were needed, we put her in the shower with her shirt on and then removed it after she was wet and warm.

    Buy a battery-operated cat. My mom loved it. She would talk to it for a long time.

    Remove all liquid soaps from counters. We caught my mom drinking the soap.

    Keep snacks in a basket for them to find at all times.

    My heart and admiration goes out to each of you going through this journey. You are truly special. Remember, this is not your fault … it just happens.

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      Thank you for sharing, Karen. We agree with you … caregivers are truly special people. Thank you for sharing these practical tips and ideas. Your experience will benefit others on this journey.

      Reply
  3. Rosie

    We just were forced to sell my brother’s home but needed his signature on the papers. He is repeatedly crying and troubled that we sold his home. We explain constantly that it was just a shell deteriorating/all contents were either preserved by family or sold for his living expenses.

    Could I get him a book to journal his thoughts and questions?

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      Rosie, we’re sorry for the pain and frustration you are experiencing as you help care for your brother.

      Yes, you may want to give him a journal or a nice notepad to write down his questions. It may be helpful then to answer some of his questions in the same place. Sheryl’s mom often asked where she was, so she was comforted when we put a note on her wall that said where she was. She also asked about visiting her home back in Iowa, but it was not how she remembered it. Still, we could share stories about the wonderful times she had in that home. Perhaps you could take some pictures of some of the things that have found a new home, and add a note to tell your brother how your family is preserving them.

      More importantly, however, you will just want to love him and do your best to help him feel at home in his new home. We would like to send you a copy of “Creating Moments of Joy.” It’s a book that helped us through some tough transitions like you are experiencing now. To request a free copy, simply fill out the form at the bottom of our article on “Basic Info About Alzheimer’s and Dementia.”

      Reply
  4. Linda

    Never correct them. Just go along with whatever they say. Don’t remind them of how it really was or what day it is or who has passed away. Just go along with their memories. Go back in time with them.

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      Great tips. Thanks! These things don’t come naturally to us, but we can get better at them with practice.

      Reply
  5. April

    When my husband feels upset or shakey I put a blanket heated in the dryer on him and it is very soothing.

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      Thanks for sharing this tip, and thanks for all the love and care you give your husband.

      Reply
  6. Kelly Burson

    Mom and Dad both have different forms of dementia. It’s a constant balancing act, not typical of what might be considered “normal” dementia circumstances. One, I could handle. But two, with different phases, different symptoms? I’ve learned to cry in the bathroom, on a self-imposed timer of 2 minutes. Better that than holding it in, like a volcano. I get creative with them and find a positive in everything. After 2 weeks of refusing to shower, I asked dad to “help me” clean the bathroom. (he loves helping) All of a sudden, whoops!…we both get soaked! The faucet went haywire. the shampoo bottle exploded, and we laughed for 20 minutes until he had to get in the shower and rinse all that soap off. 😉 Mom’s new little bracelet was from her Uncle Joe. (mom doesn’t have an uncle Joe) I replied with such excitement that he would be so kind, and asked how he was and how their visit went. She was so pleased to share all the details. 🙂 They both fidget now. So, with one on each side of the couch, it’s hours of fun as they attempt to fold the tablecloth I just asked them to help me with. I say, “Yay, a team effort!” Their reply, “Woohoo! Go team!” *Mom chews on her meds now. So I crush them, mix them with her favorite applesauce, throw in a sweet & low and voila…down the hatch it goes. Music, drawing, identifying colors, animals, cars, anything on the cards I bought, gives them something to think about. Critical thinking skills are at play. It’s essential that we remember, though their minds are fleeting, like cars getting lost on the streets, making a left where they should go right, or running into a dead-end street, their feelings are fully intact, similar to the clouds hovering over those streets. Cater to the feelings. Give them hope, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging, remind them they matter, and their quality of life goes up. I’m exhausted, yes, and alone in this with them, but they gave me their lives, so I give them mine. My heart goes out to all of you who stand/stood by those who suffer and walk with them to the finish line. It changes you, no doubt. It’s changed me. So I pray you find and keep peace and comfort in your hearts as you move forward in your journey.

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      Thank you, Kelly, for sharing these helpful tips and encouraging words. May you continue to find peace and comfort as you give your life and your love.

      Reply
  7. Ken

    My grandfather has just started showing symptoms of memory loss. Seemed to happen overnight. Now each day he calls or texts completely unaware that we we talked the night before or that I stayed with him this past weekend. He’s so scared. I don’t know how to comfort him and help him cope with his new fear and confusion.

    Reply
    • Eric Kolb

      Ken, our hearts go out to you. This is scary time for both you and your grandfather. You’ll both have more questions than answers, so focus on things you know for sure … like love. Many things can cause memory loss, and some causes are treatable. A doctor or neurologist can help you rule out possible causes, but do your best to reassure your grandfather that you will love him no matter where this journey leads.

      Reply

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Author Bio: Eric and his wife, Sheryl, founded Songs & Smiles to support families during the Alzheimer's journey. He loves singing and smiling and helping people living with dementia connect with beautiful memories.

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